By: Brendan Dames, KCOU Sports
For the first time since 1995, the America East Conference Tournament will not play its preliminary rounds at a centralized location. Instead, the higher seeded teams will host each match-up throughout the tournament, in an effort to bring the excitement of March Madness to numerous campuses around the conference, while also protecting the higher seeds. Here is a look at the upcoming 2015 America East Tournament:
#1 Albany Great Danes (21-8 Overall, 15-1 in America East) vs. #8 Maine Black Bears (3-26, 2-14)
About the Great Danes: A year after winning the America East Tournament, the Great Danes only lost once throughout conference play in 2015. Led by senior forward Sam Rowley (14.3 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game) and junior guards Evan Singletary (12.7 PPG) and Peter Hooley (13.7 PPG), the Great Danes outscored opponents by an average margin of 10.7 points per game in conference play. With home-court advantage throughout the tournament, the Great Danes are widely considered the favorites to once again represent the America East Conference in the NCAA Tournament.
About the Black Bears: Head coach Bob Walsh had a tough first season with the Black Bears, only managing to win three games while giving up a conference-worst 74.5 PPG. One bright spot for the Black Bears would be the play of freshman guard Kevin Little, who averages 12.5 PPG and was named to the conference’s All-Rookie team.
#2 Vermont Catamounts (17-12, 12-4) vs. #7 UMBC Retrievers (4-25 , 2-14)
About the Catamounts: The Vermont Catamounts won at least 17 games for the seventh consecutive season, a span in which the team has captured the conference championship twice. Junior forward Ethan O’Day leads a balanced attack with 11.9 PPG, while sophomore guard Dre Wills scores 9.3 PPG and grabs a team high 4.3 RPG. While Vermont may not hold the top seed in this year’s tournament, the Catamounts led all teams in scoring offense (67.5 PPG) and scoring defense (55.0 PPG) throughout conference play.
About the Retrievers: Eight years removed from a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the UMBC Retrievers failed to reach a double digit win total for the sixth consecutive season. After losing reigning America East Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliott to a season-ending injury in the team’s opening game at Akron, the roster would only become thinner for head coach Aki Thomas and the Retrievers. The team would go on to lose four more players in the coming months, including leading scorer Wayne Sparrow (13.8 PPG), leaving the Retrievers with just six scholarship players and two walk-ins for the majority of conference play. Junior forward Cody Joyce, a bright spot for UMBC during a tumultuous season, averaged 16.1 PPG in conference play.
#3 Stony Brook Seawolves (21-10, 12-4) vs. #6 Binghamton Bearcats (6-25, 5-11)
About the Seawolves: Led by back to back America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney, the Seawolves are looking to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Stony Brook has won six straight games coming into the tournament, a stretch in which the Seawolves handed Albany their lone loss in conference play. Warney (16.3 PPG, 11.4 RPG) and the Seawolves also picked up an impressive win in non-conference play, defeating the then 13th ranked Washington Huskies 62-57 in December.
About the Bearcats: After losing their first 16 games against Division I opponents, the Bearcats managed to win five of their last fourteen games. The Bearcats have great potential in the frontcourt, with freshman forwards Willie Rodriguez (11.6 PPG) and Dusan Perovic (11.5 PPG) leading the team in scoring. However, the Bearcats will have to beat the Seawolves without the 6-foot-9 Perovic, after the promising forward suffered a torn ACL in a January practice.
#4 New Hampshire Wildcats (18-11, 11-5) vs. #5 Hartford Hawks (7-9, 14-15)
About the Wildcats: After being ranked 6th in the conference’s preseason poll, the Wildcats surprised the league by winning 18 games, the most for the program since 1994-95. The 2014-15 Wildcats are led by All-Rookie forward Tanner Leissner, who averages a team-high 12.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG. With Leissner and a strong sophomore class featuring Jaleen Smith (10.1 PPG), Jacoby Armstrong (9.9 PPG) and Daniel Dion (9.1 PPG), the Wildcats appear to be primed to make a run for their first conference championship in the coming years.
About the Hawks: Since losing to UMBC in the America East Tournament Final in 2007-08, the Hawks have failed to make it past the semifinals in the past seven years. Leading scorer Mark Nwakamma (11.8 PPG) has battled a bone bruise for a number of weeks, but the 2nd Team All-Conference forward is expected to suit up for the Hawks against New Hampshire on Wednesday. The Hawks split the regular season series with the Wildcats, defeating New Hampshire 68-67 in Durham, NH in January, before losing to the Wildcats on their own home-court in February.
America East Conference Tournament Predictions
Quarterfinals (Wednesday, March 4th at 6 PM CST)
Albany over Maine
Vermont over UMBC
Stony Brook over Binghamton
Hartford over New Hampshire
Semifinals (Sunday, March 8th at TBD)
Albany over Hartford
Vermont over Stony Brook
Finals (Saturday, March 14th at 10 AM CST)
Albany over Vermont